For the last of our goodbye "Parenthood" posts, HuffPost Entertainment editors Lauren Duca and Lily Karlin sat down to review the series finale and final season as a whole, while feeling all the feelings and crying all the tears. Spoilers below.
Lauren Duca: I actually can't believe "Parenthood" is over. What the hell are we going to shamelessly cry over now? I watched the finale on the elliptical, because I thought maybe cardio and weeping were incompatible. I. was. wrong. I lost it over that final montage cutting to the future, as the family sprinkled Zeek's ashes on the baseball field. The whole thing made me feel kind of guilty, since I spent this entire season thinking it all would end with the Cycle of Life arc (e.g. Zeek dying and Amber giving birth). This wasn't the best season. It's actually easily my least favorite. But for where we were at this point, I think that ending was everything I could have wanted for our goodbye from the Bravermans.
Lily Karlin: I am totally with you. The critical side of my brain definitely had some issues with the episode: Why was so much stuffed into the very last hour if the writers knew from the start this was their final season? Am I supposed to be fully sold on Adam's sudden teaching destiny? But, as I've discovered with the past couple shaky seasons of the show, I just don't really care. The episode hooked me 100 percent emotionally, which is the true test of an effective "Parenthood" hour, and by the time the (admittedly corny) flash-future montage was over, my tear ducts were completely emptied out.
Can I also admit that despite all the press to the contrary, I actually deluded myself into thinking that Zeek might live through the end of the episode? I think I was subconsciously trying to protect my heart from the pain.
LD: May God bless and keep you ... and convince you to leave critical thinking out of this, Lily! LOL, but you're right. If this was a few episodes back, I would have *rolled around on the floor* when they started playing "Ave Maria" during the kids-at-the-school-succeeding-in-tasks montage last week. "AVE FRICKIN' MARIA." (It's like some guy in the writer's room had been begging to add that in since the first episode, and finally they were like, "Okay, fine, Jim, this can be our 'Ave' moment!") It would be too much in any other context. And, somehow, the finale topped one "Ave Maria" unit of ham-fisted sentimentality, but it worked. After a six-season roller coaster of emotions, we needed our sappy goodbye to the Bravermans.
Also: same. I was convinced from episode one of this season that Zeek was dead, and I still couldn't deal with it (on the elliptical). The way this season dealt with one central issue that affected the whole family made the "Parenthood" balance feel off. It's always been about mixing the drama with comedy. In earlier seasons -- and this was off in Season 5, too -- it was like Jason Katims took happiness and sadness and stirred them together in a slow cooker of feelings. This most recent season was just so weighted down with Zeek's impending death, it threw off that equilibrium. At the same time, I don't know what else would have yielded a satisfying resolution. My thoughts on the finale are the same as my thoughts about a pint of ice cream after a breakup: I don't know how we got here, but this bucket of sweetness is exactly what I need right now.
LK: Yeah, exactly. I feel like that "Ave Maria" scene sums up this latter half of "Parenthood" Season 6: you're rolling your eyes in your head about how on the nose it is, but you are also totally sobbing and just want to give everyone a hug so it's obviously doing the trick. The last episode -- which, can we talk about it being called "May God Bless and Keep You Always"? Because OH MY GOD -- was kind of like a goodbye tour for the show where everyone got to find their true purpose in life and take lots of emotional photos along the way, aka very fitting for the "Parenthood" we know and love. There were so many cute shots at the wedding with all the different nuclear family contingents posed for pictures, and I was also super into Sydney and Nora hanging out and dancing. ALERT TO BRAVERMAN FAMILY: we would like an invite to the next wedding, which seems like it may be between Amber, and um, Jason Street? Girl has a soft spot for the men of "Friday Night Lights." How did you feel about where everyone ended up in the picture-perfect flash forwards? It was kind of funny that it was just like BABIES BABIES BABIES!!!! Like, one 11th hour Julia-Joel baby wasn't enough. In the flash forward, they've got another! (I guess the one million babies in the flash future is kind of the life-death cycle you were talking about, but just like even more extreme than just the baby we knew coming was coming the whole season.)
LD: It was a festival of babies, and probably every last one was named Zeek! The finale tied everything up so neatly (and, like you said, apparently that meant feeding Adam a deep passion for teaching and also soufflé). Although, I have to wonder if there is a "realistic" version of any of that (Adam making water?) that would have left us satisfied.
Can we talk a minute to look back at the series as a whole? There were so many moments in there that feel buried in the totality of the show, because there is so much obvious greatness in the series. It's hard not to tear up just reading about Kristina's breast cancer storyline, and Max's was easily the most groundbreaking Asperger's narrative we've seen on TV. I'd like to resurrect a few things less memorable than that while we're here, talking "P.Hood" for the last time.
The first is Drew and Amy's post-high school storyline. When she leaves school and comes to stay with him indefinitely, the two of them fall apart in a cycle of co-dependence that is one of the darkest and most authentic representations of teenage life I have ever seen. It wasn't a hallmark of even that season, but it's worth recognizing the strides made there in juxtaposition to the melodramatic standard of adolescent programming. The second thing I'd like to note is Haddie bringing home her girlfriend (Tavi!) That felt so rushed, and Jason Katims said himself he wish he had more time with it. I would have liked to see this show deal with that in more than just a third of an episode. And yet, that regret makes me realize how intricate it was overall. The cast has approximately 1,000 people. And each nuclear family has had its own set of issues to work through, in addition to secondary conflicts among the core siblings, and all of that was woven into the grounded tapestry that was the arc of the show. The other day, my dad said, "'Parenthood' deals with more in a single episodes than most shows do in whole series." I think he's right. Especially in terms of (the super common) family drama, it really distinguished itself by both the issues it chose to handle and how it chose to handle them.
LK: Drew and Amy’s storyline and Haddie and Lauren’s nod were definitely two of the show’s strongest portrayals of teen struggles. At times “Parenthood,” like other LESSER shows, suffered from what I call Teen Girls Are Crazy syndrome, where teen girls are portrayed as erratic creatures with behavior motivated by “wacko hormones” instead of goals, obstacles and circumstances like, you know, other humans. (Amber and Haddie sometimes in early seasons, Ruby ... as an entity.) I thinks it stands out so much with “Parenthood” because the show otherwise thrives on creating subtle-relationship based drama, and because the actors are so good that they bring super grounded performances to even too broad moments of characterization. In terms of both stellar aspects of the series that are a little less talked about and stellar storylines about teenagers, I’ve also always had a particular soft spot for the show’s exploration of Drew and Amber’s relationships with Seth. They were always drawn as having nuanced, ambivalent feelings about their absent father where other shows may have made them one-note angry. I feel like disillusionment with a parent (Drew) and letting go of resentment toward a parent (Amber) are really hard/truthful parts of growing up that aren’t explored that much on television.
Childhood, man. Parenthood. Childhood becoming Parenthood. (Probably an alternate title for the finale.)
LD: Don't even talk to me about that one-dimensional, straight-haired angst machine! I just do not have the room in my "Parenthood" heart. Amber and Haddie definitely fell into that trap earlier on, though. I don't think it's enough for, like, a "'Parenthood' Has a Teenage Girl Problem" think piece. But those failings are there and it's actually just disappointing because this show was so wonderfully nuanced (as you said) and I would expect more from it in that area. I wish it had more time to explore adolescence in general.
There's so much we can pick from looking at the series as a whole. Does anything stick out to you? Should we move on to our last look at the finale?
LK: There's so much we could go into when talking about the whole show, but maybe we'll leave it at our discussion of "under-discussed" elements and let the many recaps and analytic pieces the internet has amassed over the years do the rest. (As much as I COULD talk about "Parenthood" in great detail for, like, ever.)
In terms of the finale, I will say I felt particularly grateful for two things. The first is that they have Crosby decide to keep the Luncheonette open without Adam. I feel like that idea has had a major lack of acknowledgement over the past couple episodes when it's just been like, "Oh, both of us don't want to do it? Then it's OVER." I understand monetarily it would raise challenges, but it just didn't seem like it would be the most far-fetched thing in the "Parenthood" universe for Crosby to get another investor to go in with him, or "figure out a way," like he finally does with the whole renting out space plan. I'm also SO GRATEFUL that they had Grandma and Grandpa Braverman invite Amber and the baby to live with them. I've been really worried about Amber having this baby while living in a studio with a sliding door with, like, no job and no money and no help. (I know I just said things work out in the "Parenthood" universe, and that now she is the "new Crosby," etc., but that still seems like it would be a a while before that job was making good money and also like, hours, childcare, etc. HAVING A BABY IS HARD, "Parenthood.")
I was also glad to see Sarah Ramos return for a few minutes. The generation of young actors on "Parenthood" -- Mae Whitman, Sarah Ramos, Miles Heizer -- are all so good. I love watching them in scenes together (and also hanging out on Instagram).
LD: Oh, Mae and Miles are brother and sister in real life and don't tell me any different, because I won't hear it. (They really do live together, though!)
That cast is excellent. I also had hesitations about Amber having a baby. I mean, girl was living in basically a storage unit up until that offer from Camille and Zeek. I did think it was interesting the way they used Matt Lauria (Ryan) in that flash forward, though! Instead of simply pairing them up, it functioned as almost a second generation redemption for the heartbreaking failure that was Seth. (Also, as you mentioned, Jason Street can now walk again!)
Of all the things "Parenthood" has telegraphed, I'm happiest they used the baseball callback. Zeek mentioned that a few episodes back, when Adam was like "What will happen to us when you die?" (Um, you will keep on living and having a family because you are an adult?) That was really perfect for me. Using those last moments for the happiness of remembrance and togetherness rather than for wallowing. I swear, when he died, the first thing I did was check the time and make sure there weren't enough minutes left for a funeral ...
LK: Yeah, totally agree about Matt Lauria. It was unexpected but it was nice to see that Ryan was okay, but that it didn't mean he and Amber have to end up together. Life can go on and she can marry Jason Street. I’m glad they handled Zeek’s death in the way they did, although like I said earlier, I almost didn’t believe he was dead until the final scene at the baseball diamond. Even when Camille was approaching the chair, I said out loud to the screen, “Please just be asleep.” That would have been terrible television, but, oh my God, I just wanted Zeek to live and them to all play baseball TOGETHER.
But as it was, it was the perfect bittersweet goodbye to a show that really mastered bittersweet television. I will definitely miss watching "Parenthood" each week, and wish the Bravermans all the best in their fictional universe lives.
I also don’t handle saying goodbye to TV shows well, so it’s likely I’ll begin a rewatch of the series from episode 1 in the very imminent future. Thank you, TV, for in your own way lasting forever.
LD: Ugh, yes. I think, ultimately, "Parenthood" is a show that thrives even in the arcs where it lacks precision of storytelling or development of individual characters. The value comes in the sum of its parts and the way it makes us feel. I know I joke about that. I have wrote "cry the tears" and "feel the feelings" so many times covering this show. But there's something beautiful about Jason Katims ability to let us feel like it's okay to do just that.